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Mirage Secret Garden habitat to close permanently

Las Vegas Review-Journal logo Las Vegas Review-Journal 11/22/2022 John Katsilometes, Las Vegas Review-Journal
Sophie Santos, 3, left, waves goodbye to Maverick with Dolphin Care Specialist Jen Schwab, right, during a "meet-and-greet" tour at the Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at Mirage on Monday, May 17, 2021, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Left_Eye_Images © L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal/TNS Sophie Santos, 3, left, waves goodbye to Maverick with Dolphin Care Specialist Jen Schwab, right, during a "meet-and-greet" tour at the Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at Mirage on Monday, May 17, 2021, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Left_Eye_Images

Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat, a popular attraction at The Mirage for more than three decades, is closing permanently.

The decision to shut down the attraction and move the animals was announced Tuesday in a joint memo from interim Mirage President Franz Kallao and Hard Rock Las Vegas President Joe Lupo.

MGM Resorts International CEO Bill Hornbuckle told the habitat staff in person Tuesday afternoon.

The timetable for moving the animals out is yet to be determined. But certainly, the habitat is not in the long-term plans for incoming property owner Hard Rock Hotel. It isn’t even certain the habitat will ever reopen, after closing in September following the death of the bottlenose dolphin K2 on Sept. 25. K2 is the third dolphin death this year at the habitat.

The two companies have been in ongoing talks about how to handle the closing of the habitat.

“Hard Rock’s leadership team has spent several months considering options and discussing the facility openly with your leadership teams at both The Mirage and MGM Resorts,” the dual company letter read. “As Hard Rock has thought about its vision for The Mirage post-close, the team has determined that the best course of action is to wind down and, eventually, permanently close the Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat prior to the commencement of construction of the Guitar Hotel and other planned transformational redevelopments of The Mirage.”

Sophie Santos, 3, center, feeds Maverick with instructions from Dolphin Care Specialist Jen Schwab, behind, during a "meet-and-greet" tour at the Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at Mirage on Monday, May 17, 2021, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Left_Eye_Images © L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal/TNS Sophie Santos, 3, center, feeds Maverick with instructions from Dolphin Care Specialist Jen Schwab, behind, during a "meet-and-greet" tour at the Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at Mirage on Monday, May 17, 2021, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Left_Eye_Images

The letter went on to explain the animals will be relocated to homes presided over by “well-trained, highly respected animal care professionals and veterinary experts.”

From the memo: “As you know, the Dolphin Habitat has been temporarily closed so that outside experts and the animal care team can conduct a thorough review of the animals and facility. We are nearing the completion of that review but have not yet determined when the facility will reopen or in what capacity.”

Hard Rock has announced plans to cease another popular Mirage attraction, the Strip-facing volcano, in its renovation. The long-range vision for the Cirque du Soleil-Beatles production “Love” is not yet decided after its commitment to run through 2023 ends.

Rachel Villanueva, from left, and her daughter Sophie Santos, 3, with Alexandra Lourdes greet Maverick during a "meet-and-greet" tour at the Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at Mirage on Monday, May 17, 2021, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Left_Eye_Images © L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal/TNS Rachel Villanueva, from left, and her daughter Sophie Santos, 3, with Alexandra Lourdes greet Maverick during a "meet-and-greet" tour at the Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at Mirage on Monday, May 17, 2021, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Left_Eye_Images

And, plans need to be specified for the future — if there is any — star headliner Shin Lim and the popular series Aces of Comedy, both at Mirage Theater.

The Secret Garden opened in 1990 and has been home to dozens of bottlenose dolphins, white tigers, white lions and leopards. The exotic cats were from the Siegfried and Roy habitat.

Siegfried Fischbacher was known to visit the habitat regularly to mingle with guests and show off sleight-of-hand magic by making coins appear from visitors’ forearms, or behind their ears. The Secret Garden was the last public experience under the S&R brand.

Dolphins leap through the air at the Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at Mirage on Monday, May 17, 2021, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Left_Eye_Images © L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal/TNS Dolphins leap through the air at the Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at Mirage on Monday, May 17, 2021, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Left_Eye_Images

Lynette Chappell, the duo’s “Evil Queen” onstage and confidant to Siegfried and Roy for 50 years, said the habitat had “a good run.” She had expected this outcome.

“To be honest, this is not a surprise,” Chappell said Tuesday afternoon. “The hotel was wonderful, our tigers and lions were very well-cared for. The staff was exceptional. It was a wonderful experience and a wonderful time.”

A Message From Franz and Jo… by Las Vegas Review-Journal

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

©2022 Las Vegas Review-Journal. Visit reviewjournal.com.. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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